Schizoaffective Disorder Diagnosis and Treatment

Learn more about how to get an accurate schizoaffective disorder diagnosis and effective treatment at J. Flowers Health Institute.

Table of Contents

What Is Schizoaffective Disorder?

Schizoaffective disorder is a mental health condition characterized by many of the same symptoms as schizophrenia. Schizoaffective disorder is a chronic illness. This means a schizoaffective disorder diagnosis indicates a lifelong condition. But, with treatment, it is possible to achieve recovery.

Many people with schizoaffective disorder symptoms get misdiagnosed as having bipolar disorder or schizophrenia.
Schizoaffective disorder is less studied and understood than other mental health conditions. Many treatment interventions for schizoaffective disorder are also rooted in treatment approaches for other conditions.

Separating Schizophrenia from Schizoaffective Disorder

Many people are familiar with schizophrenia, but schizoaffective disorder is less well-known. Schizophrenia is a more common diagnosis. Data from the World Health Organization states approximately 1 out of every 222 adults worldwide has schizophrenia.1
In the United States, statistics suggest just over 1% of adults meet the diagnostic criteria for schizophrenia. With individually-designed treatment from a program like J. Flowers Health Institute, up to 50% of people with schizophrenia achieve recovery, allowing them to live and work independently.2

Commonality of Schizoaffective Disorder

A schizoaffective disorder diagnosis is less common, both in the United States and worldwide.
Data from the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) shows the lifetime prevalence of schizoaffective disorder is approximately 0.3%. Since schizoaffective disorder diagnosis is rare, the illness itself isn’t well understood.3
While schizoaffective disorder shares many symptoms with schizophrenia, it’s important to understand how the diagnoses differ. This knowledge can help ensure adequate and effective treatment for yourself or a loved one after a schizoaffective disorder diagnosis.

Schizoaffective Disorder Definition and Overview

According to the ICD-10, schizoaffective disorder is “a mental disorder characterized by the presence of both affective disorder and schizophrenia-like symptoms.”4

Notable People With a Schizoaffective Disorder Diagnosis

Some famous figures known to have this disorder include:5
  • Mathematician and physicist Sir Isaac Newton
  • Beach Boys member Brian Wilson
  • Fleetwood Mac member Peter Green

What Causes Schizoaffective Disorder?

The exact cause of schizoaffective disorder is unknown. However, research indicates several factors that may contribute to this disorder.


Genetics likely play a role, as the condition tends to run in families. But, even if someone in your family has schizoaffective disorder, that does not mean you will develop symptoms. Genetic influences increase the odds of having the disorder but do not guarantee it will occur.

Other Potential Causes

Other aspects that may cause schizoaffective disorder include brain chemistry, stress levels, and drug use. According to a recent study, up to 47% of patients with schizophrenia or a schizoaffective disorder diagnosis also have a history of substance use.6
Studies also suggest a greater frequency of co-occurring disorders in patients with a schizoaffective disorder diagnosis.


In these cases, substances, including drugs and alcohol, get used to lessen the frequency and intensity of mental health symptoms. This practice is called self-medication. 

It worsens mental health symptoms, and, in some cases, self-medication evolves into a substance use disorder.

When Do Signs of Schizoaffective Disorder Manifest?

Signs of the disorder tend to first appear around ages 16 to 30. While some mental health conditions impact one gender more often, schizoaffective disorder diagnoses generally occur equally in men and women. However, men tend to develop the illness at an earlier age than women.

What Triggers Schizoaffective Disorder?

Some common risks can bring on schizoaffective psychosis.


Stressful events, like the death of a loved one or job loss, can cause the disorder.

Childhood Trauma

Experiencing significant emotional stress during childhood may increase the risk of a schizoaffective disorder diagnosis in the future.
This can include:
  • Neglect
  • Abuse
  • Traumatic loss

Drug Use

The use of psychoactive drugs like LSD has also been identified as a cause or risk factor for the condition.

Brain Structure

Brain chemistry and structure may influence the likelihood of someone developing the disorder, but scientists are still in the early stages of discovering the link between the brain and the condition.

If you think you or someone you know has schizoaffective disorder, the first thing to do is make an appointment with your physician or psychiatrist for an assessment.
If already diagnosed with the disorder, arming yourself with knowledge about the condition can be extremely helpful. Be patient, encouraging, and available to talk whenever the affected person needs it.7

Schizoaffective Disorder Types and Symptoms

There are two types of schizoaffective psychosis: bipolar type and depressive type. The bipolar type includes episodes of mania and can also involve episodes of major depression. Depressive types experience only depressive episodes.8

Schizoaffective Disorder Symptoms

In both types, schizoaffective psychosis symptoms include the following symptoms:
  • Delusions: This means the person believes something to be true despite it being disproved. 
  • Hallucinations: The person sees, hears, feels, smells, or tastes things that aren’t there.
  • Impaired Speech or Thinking: Impaired or incoherent speech can occur. The person may experience disorganized thinking. They may switch from topic to topic or say things entirely unrelated to the relevant conversation.
  • Strange Behavior: This includes behaviors that are out of character for the affected person.
  • Negative Feelings: This can include depression and feelings of hopelessness, emptiness, and sadness.
  • Periods of Mania: During these periods, the affected person has a significant increase in energy and a decreased need for sleep for several days. They also exhibit mood changes and strange behavior.

Other Symptoms

Other symptoms may include:
  • Impaired functioning at school or work 
  • Problems with hygiene 
  • Problems maintaining physical activity or appearance

Schizoaffective Disorder Diagnosis

Schizoaffective psychosis can be difficult to diagnose, as the condition has similar symptoms of schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or depression.
For a medical or mental health provider to provide a schizoaffective disorder diagnosis, the following symptoms must occur:
  • A period of significant mood alteration involving either mania or depression must co-occur with schizophrenia symptoms. 
  • Hallucinations, delusions, or other psychotic symptoms must persist for a period of two or more weeks, during which time a major mood episode must not occur.
  • Periods of uninterrupted, persistent mental illness must also happen. 
  • Substance use disorder must be ruled out as a cause of psychotic symptoms.

Importance of a Comprehensive Exam

There are no lab tests that can provide a schizoaffective disorder diagnosis. Because of this, doctors must get a comprehensive understanding of a patient’s mental and medical history and symptoms.
Doctors may utilize blood tests and MRIs to rule out other conditions that could be causing an individual’s symptoms.9
Medical and mental health providers will use specific interview and assessment tools to assess the presence of schizoaffective disorder symptoms. They will also reference the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) for specific diagnostic criteria.

Schizoaffective Disorder Misdiagnosis

The risk for misdiagnosis for schizoaffective disorder can be high. Schizoaffective disorder features characteristics of schizophrenia, but the two are not interchangeable.

Schizoaffective Disorder vs. Schizophrenia

Schizoaffective psychosis features:
  • Delusions
  • Hallucinations
  • Disorganized thinking
  • Mood disorder symptoms, like depression and mania

Schizophrenia, on the other hand, does not often have mood disorder symptoms.

Schizophrenia Symptoms

Schizophrenia symptoms include:
  • Hallucinations
  • Hearing voices
  • Paranoia
  • Frenzied speaking
  • Impaired motor coordination
  • Agitation
  • Other cognitive and behavioral symptoms

Schizoaffective Disorder vs. Bipolar Disorder

As previously noted, someone with a schizoaffective disorder diagnosis will experience psychotic symptoms, such as delusions and hallucinations. Depending on the type of schizoaffective disorder, they may experience manic or depressive symptoms in addition to psychotic symptoms.

Someone with a schizoaffective disorder diagnosis is significantly more likely to experience psychotic symptoms.
Conversely, someone with bipolar disorder has depressive episodes that alternate with either mania or hypomania. Psychotic symptoms are less common in those with bipolar disorder.

The Dangers of Misdiagnosis

It’s crucial to note that misdiagnosis can seriously harm a patient’s treatment process.
For example, if someone with schizoaffective disorder is being treated for schizophrenia, they will most likely only be prescribed antipsychotics, which are used to treat schizophrenia. But, someone with a schizoaffective disorder diagnosis often needs antidepressant treatment in addition to antipsychotics.
When incorrect or ineffective treatment models are used, it can lead to worsening symptoms and distress for the affected person.

Schizoaffective Disorder Medications and Treatment

There are several types of schizoaffective disorder treatments. The ideal treatment varies from person to person. Because the most effective mental health care program includes individualized treatment plans, our J. Flowers Health Institute team works with each of our patients to understand their treatment needs and goals.

With this information, we can develop highly individualized treatment plans that meet you or your loved one where you are on your recovery journey.

In general, people respond best to a treatment plan that includes medications, psychotherapy, and training to help them achieve and excel at basic life skills, including social and vocational skills.


Medical and mental health professionals often prescribe three categories of medications to treat schizoaffective disorder. These medications help to treat depression symptoms and reduce the intensity and frequency of mood alterations.

Examples of medications used in treatment include antipsychotics, mood stabilizers, and antidepressants.

Antipsychotic Medications

Schizoaffective psychosis bipolar type is often treated with antipsychotic medications such as:
  • Invega (paliperidone), which is FDA-approved specifically for the treatment of schizoaffective disorder  
  • Seroquel (quetiapine) 
  • Abilify (aripiprazole) 
  • Lamictal (lamotrigine), an anticonvulsant  
Antipsychotic medications help manage psychotic symptoms common with schizoaffective disorder, such as hallucinations and delusions.

Mood Stabilizers

Mood-stabilizing medications help regulate mood for those with schizoaffective disorder bipolar type. Mood stabilizers may reduce the intensity of mood swings that occur with the “high” associated with manic episodes and the “low” associated with depressive episodes.


Antidepressants are also beneficial when depression is the primary underlying mood disorder. Antidepressant medications can improve emotional regulation by reducing the impact of depression symptoms, such as feelings of:
  • Sadness
  • Worthlessness
  • Hopelessness
They may also improve concentration and sleep.


Schizoaffective disorder is also treated with psychotherapy. Our luxury, bespoke facility offers a comprehensive bespoke approach for the treatment of schizoaffective disorder, which combines medication and therapy.
At J. Flowers Health Institute, we focus on the patient’s needs by first affirming a diagnosis and then developing holistic treatment plans.

Psychotherapy Approach

Psychotherapy is sometimes called talk therapy. It occurs in individual, group, or family settings. Individual treatment sessions often focus on helping someone with a schizoaffective disorder diagnosis understand and manage their symptoms.
The most effective treatment models concentrate on developing healthy coping and problem-solving tools.

Group and Family Sessions

Group or family sessions are beneficial as they reduce feelings of isolation that are common for someone diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder. 

Group and family sessions offer a safe and supported space to discuss worries and concerns while improving social skills.

Schizoaffective Disorder Diagnosis

Living With a Schizoaffective Disorder Diagnosis

Although the condition is relatively rare, it can affect anyone. Moreover, even though schizoaffective disorder can be challenging to manage, treatment is very helpful for someone with a schizoaffective disorder diagnosis.
People with schizoaffective disorder report symptoms lessening as they age, and many see a significant reduction of symptoms by middle age. Though the condition is chronic and has no cure, it’s essential to remember that a schizoaffective disorder diagnosis does not mean someone can’t have a good life.

Living and thriving after a schizoaffective disorder diagnosis takes ongoing treatment and support from mental health providers and loved ones. Family members can help loved ones by participating in their treatment and learning about schizoaffective disorder and potential symptom risks.

How J. Flowers Health Institute Can Help

Even the most complex mental conditions can be treated at J. Flowers Health Institute. Our team of caring and compassionate providers will work with you or your loved one to develop a treatment plan that considers your unique treatment needs.

At J. Flowers, personalized one-on-one care encourages patients and supports them on their journey to regaining independence and living healthy, fulfilling lives. Our “Living MRI” is a comprehensive diagnostic evaluation that takes a look at all of your symptoms for expansive and supportive assistance.

To learn more about treatment and healing after a schizoaffective disorder diagnosis, contact us at J. Flowers Health Institute today.